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STUDY: Scientists call for programs to effectively eliminate malnutrition, anaemia among schoolchildren

July 6, 2022
STUDY: Scientists call for programs to effectively eliminate malnutrition, anaemia among schoolchildren
A snip from the PLOS journal with insets of Ifakara Health Institute researchers, Mr. Emmanuel Mrimi and Ms. Elihaika Minja, who contributed to the study and publication. GRAPHIC |IFAKARA/Coms.

Scientists have recommended programs that will effectively control and eliminate malnutrition, anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies among schoolchildren in Tanzania. In their research findings published on the PLOS journal recently, the scientists from Ifakara Health Institute and partner institutions argue that tackling health burdens among schoolchildren requires effective health interventions.

Recommended programs include: nutritional, disease control, water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) which focus on improving dietary quality; increasing production of nutritious food and consumption of animal source food; education on optimal dietary practices; early treatment; immunization; and improving WaSH facilities and practices.

“… unique tailoring of these programs to suit local needs, such as increasing availability and consumption food and/or supplements containing iron, vitamin A and B12, which have a positive impact in growth and development,” the scientists say in the findings of their study titled, “Malnutrition, anemia, micronutrient deficiency and parasitic infections among schoolchildren in rural Tanzania,” published on the Neglected Tropical Diseases section of the PLOS Journal on March 4, 2022.

Ifakara researchers, Emmanuel Mrimi and Elihaika Minja, contributed to the study and publication along with their colleagues from Ifakara partner - Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) of Switzerland, Marta Palmeirim, Kurt Long and Jennifer Keiser.

Their cross-sectional study was implemented in 9 different schools in Kikwawila and Kiberege wards located in Kilombero Valley, south-eastern Tanzania. A total of 471 schoolchildren aged 6-12 were involved in the study who underwent a physical and clinical examination and assessment for different micronutrients, nutritional, anaemia, and parasitic infection status. The study took nine months from April to December 2019.

Results showed, from the 471 schoolchildren enrolled for the study, 23.9%, 12.6% and 16.2% of them were stunted, underweight and wasted, respectively and about 14.0% were found to be anaemic. “Schoolchildren attending the most rural schools were five times more likely to be diagnosed with at least one micronutrient deficiency,” the findings read in part.

Given the lack of effective health interventions and knowledge on the prevalence of these health burdens, the scientists believe that increasing the efforts to control and eliminate malnutrition, anaemia, micronutrient deficiency and parasitic infections would benefit from sustainable and integrated approaches such as deworming, micronutrient supplementation, health education, vector control and an improvement in access to clean water and improved sanitation.

“The current knowledge on the prevalence of malnutrition, anaemia, micronutrient deficiency and their potential association to parasitic infections is scarce in Sub-Saharan Africa, and especially lacking in Tanzania,” the scientists remarked adding that their study is, “… the first, in the last three decades, to investigate their distribution and underlying risk factors among schoolchildren in Tanzania.”

To round off their study, the scientists wrote in their conclusion that “malnutrition, anaemia and micronutrient deficiency still pose a significant health burden among schoolchildren living in rural Tanzania. To tackle this burden effectively, health interventions such as deworming, micronutrient supplementation, vector control, health education, access to clean water, and improved sanitation should be strengthened and made sustainable.”

Malnutrition is a significant global public health problem with women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa bearing the highest burden. Parasitic infections play a crucial role in increasing malnutrition by compromising the immune system and altering the macro-and/or micronutrient balance of the body.

Micronutrient deficiencies include lack of iron, vitamin A and iodine, which put more than two billion people at risk worldwide by causing anaemia, night blindness and goitre diseases, respectively. Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency and cause of anaemia worldwide with approximately 42% being attributed among children younger than five years.

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